Rickards was born in Sarasota, Florida. She grew up on a horse farm that catered for children with special needs. She attended a local Montessori school where, at age 13, she had her first taste of acting in an opera production. Rickards graduated from high school at age fifteen and is a member of Mensa. After attending a local talent showcase, organized by Lou Pearlman, Rickards traveled to Los Angeles where she eventually gathered a team of representatives. Upon graduating, Rickards began to appear in a number of minor roles, while child labor laws restricted the number of hours she was able to work. After making a number of guest appearances and shorts, she landed the role of Samantha Walker, a runaway foster child, in the sixth season of The CW's One Tree Hill. Although not aware of the show before auditioning, Rickards found that she "learned so much from acting techniques to different ways of shooting things". Her character did not return the following season, while in the same year she had a bit part in her first feature film, Gamer.